Gary Fincke ~ The Theories for Ball Lightning

Mr. Smink, each time we met, told us the his­to­ry of the high school band, which boys had faint­ed in Memorial Day parades, which girls had soloed to applause dur­ing end-of-the-school-year con­certs. Once, after we smeared anoth­er try at “Camptown Races” and blat­ted “Yankee Doodle”; Mr. Smink paused us to explain how even our music, all of it made by trum­pets and trom­bones, trav­eled through space, how it would play for­ev­er on a fre­quen­cy some­one green or many-legged might hear.

He’d spi­raled down from lead­ing the high school orches­tra to fourth-graders like us, repeat­ing FACE and Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge as if Martians might love mnemon­ics. After we packed up and left, there were third-graders with rental horns and sec­ond-graders with school-bought tonettes, but he said he was only pick­ing us to tell how his friend had been killed by music, his radio plung­ing into the tub when he reached for soap.

We under­stood nobody would die for the songs we were prac­tic­ing, but we want­ed to fill a bath­tub, tip someone’s plugged-in clock radio into the water while “Sugartime” or “Tammy”  or one of the oth­er fifty year-old songs Mr. Smink loved was play­ing, zap­ping it mid-cho­rus on the launch pad. We imag­ined there’d be light­ning, some Shazam! bolt of weath­er in the bath­room we would lock to keep away our parents.

One of us asked Mr. Smink if the elec­tro­cut­ed glowed like they did in car­toons, but he ignored her. Instead, he told us about the woman who claimed a cloud of light pur­sued her, how she brushed what felt like a man’s secret touch from her arm and it exploded.

Everyone went qui­et for so long he told us to try “Oh, Susanna” for the third time that morn­ing. Now we paid atten­tion. We kept togeth­er and fin­ished in a slow crescen­do Mr. Smink drew from us by slow­ly swing­ing up his hands.

Then we blew our spit on the tiled floor and lis­tened to Mr. Smink recite what he said were the the­o­ries for ball light­ning: bub­bles of burn­ing methane; swarms of glow­ing pollen; throngs of elec­tri­fied gnats. “it could be any­thing,” he said. “No one knows.”

None of us laughed when he added, “Even the lumi­nous crews who pilot their tiny saucers toward us, trans­fixed by the tunes you play.”


Gary Fincke’s most recent col­lec­tion is Nothing Falls from Nowhere (Stephen F. Austin, 2021). His flash fic­tion has appeared recent­ly in Craft, Vestal Review, Atticus Review, Pithead Chapel, Flash Boulevard, and Best Small Fictions 2020. He is co-edi­tor of the inter­na­tion­al anthol­o­gy series Best Microfiction.